Library spaces we love: library@chinatown

Today’s post comes to us from Clare McKenzie, one of the ILN Program Coordinators.

One of the highlights of my trip to the WLIC2013 in Singapore was the opportunity to look at some of the local libraries. The visit that has stayed with me the longest, and raised the most questions for me was the recently opened 25th public library in Singapore, library@chinatown.P1030616

The library is on the top floor of a shopping centre, privately funded, community supported and run under the auspices of the National Library Board of Singapore, but staffed mostly by volunteers. There are many places you can read about this model and the background to the project, I just want to draw out a few questions and observations from my visit:

  • I love the synergy between the shopping centre and the library – it’s easy to go to the library if you are going to the shopping centre anyway and the library was getting a staggering number of people through the door each month which hopefully helps keep the shopping centre viable
  • The library was developed as a direct response to a need in the community – the local community are often elderly and babysitting grandchildren – the new library gives them a place to go together. Many of the volunteers are older citizens and the library is a space where they can be ‘at work’ and yet the grandchildren can join them after school.
  • I question whether it is a library as such, or just a space to read and borrow materials – this begs the much bigger question of ‘what is a library‘ but I think one thing that separates a library from other public or community spaces is the presence of assistance with finding information. Those of us who work in libraries will argue long and loud that this needs to be a trained human being – but maybe that’s not always the case in some types of libraries? The library@chinatown relies heavily on the online portals to other National Library Board of Singapore services – although there is a ‘dial a librarian’ service as well. For a library staffed by volunteers to work, there must be (as there is in this case) professional library staffing as part of the infrastructure in the background.

It will be interesting to see any reviews or evaluations of the new library – now that it is just over a year old, I suspect these may not be far away. In the meantime, you can see the photos from my visit last August over on flickr.

Posted in Round 2 and tagged , , , .


  1. Hello! This is such a interesting post. It touches not only the design of the library but also were it is located and the way it is run. This model of volunteers working as librarians is gaining ground everywhere, also here at the UK where I am situated now. My guess is that it is a general trend, not only in the LIS profession, and has largely to do with the shrinking budgets of public services and not with the actual skills of the workers. Also, deciding to put a public service inside a ‘commercial temple’ is a debatable decision. Does the library at least receive any funding from the mall owner(s)? Surely it contributes to the number of visits to the mall! Are there any other information about this model of libraries?

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